Pottery & Art Galore in Chatham County, NC

Chatham, NC Pottery & Art Studio Tour

Over 50 potters and artists open their workshops to the public during the first two weekends in December each year for the Chatham, NC Studio Tour.

We couldn’t possibly visit all 50 artists on Saturday we set out in early December to explore the visual arts, pottery, textiles, blown glass, photography, and sculpture represented on this acclaimed annual event. Ruth and I sat down on the sofa with the self-guided tour map open to plot our journey. There were five artists on our list to visit. I was excited. For the past eight years, I have been a Chatham Studio Tour artist. Now, I am developing art workshops in Oaxaca, Mexico, full-time. This was my first opportunity to “Take the Tour.”

Where is Chatham County?

Located in the central piedmont of North Carolina about 30 miles west of Raleigh and midway between the mountains and the coast, Chatham County is known for its lush, rolling farmland, easy lifestyle, and a vibrant music, literary, and arts community. It is anchored by Pittsboro, the county seat on the east, and Siler City (home of the Andy Griffith Show’s Aunt Bea) on the west, with by-ways and hamlets in-between. Tour-goers often meet up at Pittsboro’s General Store Cafe, just west of the courthouse circle, for coffee or breakfast before setting out on “the tour.”

Wood-fired, salt-glazed stoneware distinguishes Lara O’Keefe Pottery

Lara’s farmhouse and kiln were first on our list today. She began making pots in 1996 while a student at Warren Wilson College just outside Asheville, NC. After graduation, Lara kept at it and learned studio basics at nearby pottery in Weaverville. When an opportunity opened up for her to apprentice at Jugtown Pottery in Seagrove. Lara jumped on it. She grew up in Chatham County and wanted to be closer to her family who could give her a hand with her young daughter. Seagrove was in the next county over! Then, she apprenticed with master potter Mark Hewitt who lives in Pittsboro and whose work is in the Smithsonian Craft Collection. In 2007 Lara built her kiln, held her first home pottery sale, and the rest is history. When we arrived at 10:15 a.m. on the second weekend not much was left, and it was clear from what remained that her work is highly collectible.

“We discovered Lara on the tour last year,” Dana LeVine said, browsing the outdoor gallery. “We were blown away by her subtle, earthy designs.” She and husband David Miller hand-carried Lara’s pottery to Israel for relatives as an example of NC art.

Contact: Lara O’Keefe Pottery, 650 Abeyance Drive, Moncure, NC. (919) 545-9737.

Plein air painter Rita Baldwin captures the landscape on canvas

Rita Baldwin’s studio is a restored horse barn; she has been on the tour for four years. “I’ve always had a passion for art,” Rita says as she points out “Cherry Pink,” one of her favorites that catches the glow of cherry blossoms. Working with brush and palette knife, many of Rita’s paintings replicate the exquisite color range of blooming orchids. She is now easing out of the family business. The Baldwin’s “board” 8,000 privately-owned orchids, keeping and restoring them to good health. It is a treat to visit her studio then walk through one of the five greenhouses on the property.

Rita Baldwin, 2698 Hanks Chapel Road, Pittsboro, NC. (919) 542-6076.

Carol Kroll Tinsky defines when a gourd is both a sculpture and a painting

Carol takes a simple element of nature and creates a work of art. She grows, dries, sculpts, and paints gourds. Carol is widely exhibited her work and has received numerous awards, including “Best of Show” and won First Place and the President’s Award at the 68th Annual Gourd Festival in Raleigh. “I awake in the morning with an idea and think, yeah, I’ve got to do that,” she says. Carol uses textures and layering of color with a lot of glazing to give depth to her work. You would never imagine there was a plant in the ground that started all that.

Carol Kroll Tinsky, Siler City, NC. (919) 742-4440.

Simple, earthy, lively, and functional describes Doug Dotson’s stoneware

Nestled deep into the woods off Andrews Store Road is where you will find potter Doug Dotson. Doug mixes his own glazes and uses local materials: granite dust, wood ash, and clay that he gets from the hill behind his house. He fires his work at Cone 10, then sprays the gas kiln with sodium carbonate at the end of the firing. What emerges is functional soda glazed stoneware that shimmers and reflects light. “See the patches of different color and gloss on the pot,” Doug says. “I like to make vigorous cut marks on the pots, too.” The yellow salt glaze on this piece we are looking at interacting with the dark red clay body. This resulted in “crawling” where the glaze thickened up along the wavy cut marks. The variations were astounding.

David A. Botts takes his inspiration from the grain and form of wood

Down the hill is the woodworking studio of David A. Botts, a master finish carpenter who works in both local and exotic woods. Trees run in his blood. David’s dad was a home builder and his great grandfather owned a sawmill. He loves Native American and Asian art. “I pull bits and pieces out of different cultures to create my work,” he tells me. “I also love finding interesting pieces at small local sawmills,” David says. I couldn’t take my eyes off an extraordinary, carved basswood three-panel screen covered in exotic cloth. Remarkable.

David A. Botts Woodworking, 289 Forest Light Lane, Pittsboro, NC. (919) 542-5230.

Fill your tank with gas and download a Self-Guided Tour Map

Then, hit the road! It’s a big, rural county. Plot your trip before you start. Maybe you’ll cover 10 studios in a day — depending on how much shopping you do and how long you stop for lunch! Studios are open year-round by appointment.

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